When I first began hiking and backpacking, I imagined adopting a sporty, badass dog that would follow me, unleashed, through the backcountry. A pup that would summit mountains, splash through streams and snuggle up next to me at night. It’s enough to make any outdoorsy person swoon!
But before you run out and adopt “man’s best friend”, here’s what you need to know about hiking with your dog.
Not Every Breed Is A Hiker
First off, just because it has four legs and a tail, does not mean all dog breeds are made for outdoor adventures. And yes, size does matter.
Smaller dogs have shorter legs which means, for every step you take, your dog has to take 2-3 steps. That makes even a short distance hike strenuous so you may want to limit smaller dogs to short, easy hikes. When it comes to longer, rough trails you may want to leave him at home.
You may think giant breeds would do well on the trail but many larger breeds have joint issues and get tired after a few miles. Shorter hikes are definitely good for super large dogs!
If you’re looking to get a dog look for a medium breed similar to sporting, herding and working dogs. These pups tend to be more athletic and have more stamina so they’re less likely to collapse on the train due to exhaustion. They’ll also have less difficulty carrying their own backpacks with food and water.
Understand His Personality & Endurance
Before you hit the trails, you will need to understand your dog’s personality. Does he prefer cold weather hiking to hot? Can he go several miles without a break? Does he get startled easily? How does he react around wildlife?
Also knowing your dog’s endurance will make it easier to determine how long a hike you can take and how long it may take you. Last thing you want is to get several miles out and need to carry your pup all the way back because he’s tired (or stubborn).
Do Some Trail Research
First and foremost: not every trail allows dogs!
Dogs are actually barred from a lot of park trails for a slew of reasons. They may be untrained and will chase local wildlife, they may disturb the quiet & solitude for other hikers or they could disrupt a fragile ecosystem.
This is why researching the trail you wish hike is so important. You’ll need to know what the park’s leash laws are (typically leashed at all times), if there’s an additional fee on your wilderness permit and what conditions the trail is in.
A park’s dog policy will also provide you with useful information on how to handle dog feces (pack-it-out or bury it in a ‘cathole’), where to camp if your backpacking and what streams or lakes are safe for your pup to drink from.
Trail Tip: Try a Doggie Hiking Group! You can find listings at your local veterinarian’s office, a library, on social media or through MeetUp.
Bring the Necessary Gear
Just like humans, dogs need to have specialized gear for hiking and backpacking. This will allow for a more enjoyable hike, especially when the weather isn’t mild.
Dog hiking gear can include:
Doggy Shoes (especially for exposed, hot trails)
Food and/or Treats
Dog First Aid Kit
Bedding and Blanket, if backpacking
While your dog can probably carry his own food/snacks, you will most likely have to carry everything else so plan accordingly.
Brush Up on Obedience Training
Take the time to go over basic commands like sit, stay, leave it and recall (coming when called).
While your dog doesn’t have to be ‘service dog’ trained, he does need to know some of these simple commands to keep him, and you, safe while hiking. Especially if you’re in an area with larger wildlife like coyotes, mountain lions and bears.
Training typically happens in the puppy years and with time and a ton of effort it usually pays off, but a refresher later in your dog’s life is never a bad thing.
Trail Tip: Whatever trail you are on, hikers without dogs always have the right-of-way.
Do Some Pre-Hike Training
If you’ve never taken Fido out on a hike, you cannot expect him to do well on a 10 mile, out-and-back.
Start out slowly by taking long, easy dog walks, increasing the distance over time. Next, take short hikes with more elevation and increase from there. This works for younger and older dogs, although you never want to push a senior dog into hard hikes.
What you’re trying to do is build up your dog’s muscle. Just like with humans, it takes some time and effort.
Trail Tip: Check with your veterinarian to evaluate your pup’s overall health before training. They’ll also be able to suggest specific exercises and vaccinations, if necessary, to keep your dog healthy on the trails.
Post Hike Check-Up & Pampering
So, you and your dog-o are back home after a long day on the trails. Now is a fantastic to do a full check up on your dog and give him some extra love!
Begin at the top of your dog’s head and work your way down to his paws. Check for ticks that may be hiding on the back of the neck, around the ears and under his collar.
Next, check the pads of all paws - check for burns and cracking skin, cleaning any dirt or debris from in between the pads. Finally, give that pup a nice, warm bath (or cool if he’s panting) and lots of water.
Keep an eye on your dog following a long hike - if your dog is injured or sickness, you may not notice it until hours after you return home.
And there you have it! Following this guideline is pretty simple and will help keep you and your pup safe, happy and healthy.
Author: Andy with https://www.1kmileboots.com/